When the average person hears the word ‘seal’, the first thought that pops into their mind is an aquatic mammal which either lives on the coast or plays horns in the circus in return for a fishy reward. For those with a working knowledge of the United States military’s Special Forces however, the word SEAL is spelled in all caps and holds an outstanding meaning. The SEALS are the specially trained cream of the crop from both the Navy and Marines.
“Hooyah!” is the war cry of the SEALS. During the torturous training the recruits endure, when shouted, it means “Yes,” “Understood,” and “I am not letting this evolution get the best of me!” (An ‘evolution’ in SEAL terminology refers to the various events undertaken during the training program.)
The SEALS were born on January 1, 1962, with their forerunners being ‘Frogmen’ or ‘Underwater Demolition Teams’ (UDT). From his previous experience as a naval officer during World War II, President John F. Kennedy recognized there was a need for training in guerilla/counter-guerilla warfare and created the SEAL program to meet that need. The term ‘SEAL’ is derived from the missions carried out by this elite group anywhere in the world – SEa, Air and Land.
In the beginning, the SEALS were composed of two teams. Seal Team 1 was based in Coronado, CA and Seal Team 2 in Virginia Beach, VA. The training these selected groups received included hand-to-hand combat, demolitions and high altitude-low opening (HALO) parachuting. They began their overseas deployment in March 1962 to train South Vietnamese soldiers how to fight their aggressors from the North. The expansion of the Vietnam conflict created a greater need for the SEALS’ participation in guerilla warfare, to include ambushing key targets and disrupting the supply lines for the northern army. Since then, SEALS have played an active part in such military operations as: Just Cause, Operation Urgent Fury, Gothic Serpent and Red Wing, to name a few.
For young men with aspirations of becoming a SEAL, be forewarned – SEAL training is brutal! Prior to entering the full 30 month training program, the recruits undergo an initial five week indoctrination program. This program serves to divide the ‘wheat from the chaff,’ and prepare the participants for the grueling physical and mental tests they will face. Those who successfully complete the indoctrination program move on to Basic Conditioning.
Basic Conditioning lasts for eight weeks and is much tougher than the indoctrination program. Over the course of the basic conditioning timeframe, the days are filled with physical training and testing – calisthenics, swimming, running and learning about small-boat operations. The mother of all obstacle courses is run each day, combined with an ocean swim of one to two miles – both of which are timed. As training continues, the time needed to complete each exercise is expected to decrease.
Another vital part of basic condition involves ‘drown-proofing’. During this evolution, the trainees must learn to swim with both feet and hands bound. After entering a pool nine feet deep, the trainee must: bob for five minutes; float for five minutes; swim 100 meters; bob for two minutes; do forward and backward flips; swim to the bottom of the pool and retrieve an object with his teeth, then return to the surface to bob five more times.
The evolution following drown-proofing is ‘surf torture,’ also known as ‘cold water condition.’ Normal water temperature for this training is 65 degrees and never more than 68 degrees. Surf torture is composed of drills requiring trainees to run 1-1/2 miles down the beach in wet clothes and boots, then return to the surf. Many times they will also carry rubber boats over their heads as they proceed from one task to another.
As the recruits approach the fourth week of their training, what they have been through so far will seem a piece of cake compared to what lies ahead. Now they face Hell Week. Beginning at sundown on Sunday and continuing through sundown on Friday, the trainees will be allowed no more than four hours of sleep for the entire timeframe.
The evolutions of Hell Week normally entail teams carrying Zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats) over their heads. Timed exercises are also a part of this training, involving running and crawling through mud flats at various times during the five days. An extremely critical part of the training involves listening closely to orders. Foggy minds resulting from lack of sleep can be dangerous for deployed SEALS, thus instructors many times intentionally leave off a portion of the order to test the trainees and see who is listening closely. What may seem to some to be overly harsh is actually critical due to the missions the SEALS could be called on to undertake. Their lives and the lives of their teammates depend on it.
Each evolution the trainees enter tests them even more than the previous. As they complete BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training, one trait has become the norm of all the participants – ‘fire in the gut’. Characteristics of this trait include: courage, desire, obedience to instructors, cooperation with teammates and oblivion to pain, while retaining the attitude graduation is somewhere in the future and quitting before that time is not an option.
When the trainee completes the program and graduates, he receives the Navy SEAL Trident. First authorized in 1970, the badge is worn on the left breast of the service uniform, above service ribbons and any other decorations. The emblem is worn as a gold metal pin on dress uniforms and an embroidered patch on a camouflage uniform.
Composed of three parts – an anchor & trident, an eagle and a pistol – the Trident design represents the areas in which a SEAL excels – sea, air and land. The anchor and trident of the pin represent the sea, the eagle the air and the pistol the land. The pistol is cocked and the eagle’s wings are spread wide. The cocked pistol indicates constant readiness and the eagle’s spread wings symbolize the courage and strength of the Navy SEALS.